BARBER by Olakunle Ologunro

I don’t like my barber. The first time I went to his shop on Ubi street, I was surprised to see how half-baked it looked. All the other barbers I knew had complete sliding glass doors, posters of moneyed-looking people with smart haircuts adorning neatly painted walls. But my barber doesn’t. His walls are painted white and halfway, coated with an incongruous shade of brown. His sliding door is broken in half too, so he does not slide them close and generator smoke filters in when he cuts hair. Once, I told his apprentice, a young boy with bewildered cautiousness to slide it close and keep out smoke, and he smiled wanly- the smile you give people who don’t know some things should not be done at all- before he told me in Yoruba “Rara, we don’t open it,” so I accepted and stared at the sun-faded poster of Rihanna and Chris Brown on the glass.

But my barber cuts hair very well. Perhaps that is why I choose to go to his shop, to sit on his chair with peeling leather and while he cuts my hair and ask me how possible it is that I don’t use relaxers yet I have neat sporting waves. Or maybe it is the need to laugh at something unknowingly funny, like his insistently bad English. Once, after he finished cutting my hair, he asked me “You fine o! Where are you went to?” and I stared at him, confused until I realised that he is asking me where I was going to.

 

My barber likes to tell stories too, anecdotal stories I’m not sure I believe. The last time I went to cut my hair, he was telling another customer- a woman whose children had come to cut their hair- a story of how MKO Abiola became rich by adding more zeroes to a cheque a whiteman had asked him to go and cash. The woman, a Yoruba woman with matted weave-on and false eyelashes was full of admiration. She wanted to be like Abiola I could tell, from the way her eyes clouded with awe, the way her mouth twisted and smiled distantly. There was something about her that amused me, something typically Nigerian; always believing any story about wealthy people.

“Shebi Jonathan do sharm so Buhari can lost him memori when dem want to do that general eleshon,” He said, pausing to look at the woman. In his eyes, superior pride danced, pride of knowing something others were oblivious to. Above my head, the clipper hummed.

“Ehen!” The woman said, her eyes darting from him to the TV where a lady in waist-length shorts pranced about. “No wonder he did not remember his VP’s name when he went for campaign. This life sha.” Her lips were turned down at the sides. I looked from her to him, both of them united by anecdotes, bits of people’s lives embellished by unconfirmed reports.

“Rish people don’t want poor people to rish too. Who go do gateman? Nobody!” He said, his voice assertive. His apprentice sighed, folded and refolded his arms.

“Abi oh! Security sef na bad work,” the woman said and snapped her fingers to show how bad. “Ah, Olorun maje, none of my family can do it o!”

“Na sehkurity haya killa dey kill first.” he said.

“Shebi na the politicians dey use dem pass sef,” The woman said and adjusted her brassiere. Her breasts seemed too big.

“Ehen now. Is not haya assassin that kill Dele Giwa ni?” he said, again. I wanted to correct him, to tell him Dele Giwa was killed by a letter bomb and not assassinated, but I could not, he seemed to enjoy his own stories. He was like the men who came to buy cigarettes and kai-kai from my grandmother, men who told stories and shouted at themselves as though it was a competition and whoever outshouts the other would win, telling themselves how they had known the late fuji singer-Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, personally.

He continued talking. In my mind, I was trying to separate truth from myths, trying to know if Goodluck had really charmed Buhari to make him have partial memory loss.

“Goan look korrent afyas! See ehn, them don’t want anybody to tell this story. Shey Boko Haram nefa fuck all the gehs? Shey they haf no pregnant them?” he asked in that forceful manner that did not demand an answer but felt incomplete without one.

“Ah, I pity those girls oh. Small small children,” the woman said. Her face had taken on an expression of pity. “My sister say all of them are virgins.”

That Nigerianness again, the ability to tell stories of things that did not happen in our presence with so much assurance.

“Fargin ke? It’s lie! One of my friend is Boko Haram. He tell me those girls sabi well.”

I wanted to laugh then, to laugh so hard until he stopped talking and looked at me, his hand suspended in mid-air. But I did not, I wanted to hear everything they said and tell it to my Grandma. I wondered what she would make of this story, my Grandma who could bring a story to an abrupt end or reveal the absurdity of a story with a mere snort.

“Are you through?” I asked him when he dusted the back of my neck. His powder smelt like oranges.

“Yes. You are Igbo?”

He had stopped talking about his own biased brand of politics.

“No, Yoruba,” I said.

“You have the bone-bone face of Igbo people,” he said.

I laughed.

He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but then he stopped, smiled and turned back to the woman. As I stepped out into the sun, I overheard him talking about how Obasanjo’s plane had landed in the middle of complete darkness at Murtala Muhammed Airport, how his pilot was made best pilot in Africa.

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